Thursday, March 13, 2014

Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

Because Matilda was born with a twisted foot, some people in the castle think she brings bad luck or worse. Thirteen-year-old Matilda thinks everyone would be better off if she were a copyist in a cloister instead of the heir to the little principality of Alder Brook. So when her greedy cousin Ivo kidnaps her and a couple of friends rescue her, Matilda joins in their plan to become dragon slayers.

The setting is the twelfth century lower Rhine River area, complete with dragons and other magical beings, but realistically free of anachronisms. Matilda's fondness for books and learning competes with her sense of duty and makes her an engagingly complex person. Her companions, Judith and Parz, are also distinct individuals with their own plans and flaws. And Haskell's portrayal of the mind of a dragon is exceptionally believable.

Handbook for Dragon Slayers is the 2014 Schneider Family Book Award winner for middle school for its depiction of a person with a disability. Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown is the standard for all girl dragon fighters. By contrast, in Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles series, dragons and princesses are often allies.

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